Chardonnay: Not All Butter & Toast

The commonly consumed Chardonnay from California is just not my “thing” and when asked for a recommendation for a buttery or oaky one, I am very honest with people. I tell them I prefer to actually taste the Chardonnay grape and not butter or toast. I do suggest wines that I know have those notes, but I cannot recommend them from experience. I, like a lot of people, had a very closed mind about Chardonnay, thinking they all tasted the same, until the classes I took led me to start tasting different wines and now it is a whole new (or should I say old) world for me. Let us explore the differences.

You may not realize this, but climate (different from weather) does affect grapes. Chardonnay grapes grown in warm regions like California will produce a wine fuller in body, less acidic, with tropical fruit notes. Whereas, grapes that are grown in cooler areas in the Burgundy region of France, will produce lighter, more acidic wines with citrus fruit notes. 

Before moving on, let me first explain the difference between New and Old World for those that may not know. New World wines are made in areas of the world that were developed during The Age of Exploration. They include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, the United States and Canada. Old World wines are made in areas where winemaking originated – basically in all of Europe.

To continue, Chardonnay is also one of the only white wines that truly benefits from aging in oak barrels by taking on the flavors of the oak. A lot of California Chardonnays are aged in new oak barrels. This imparts the vanilla, caramel and toasty notes. Chardonnays in France are aged in older barrels so you get very little oak flavor – these are considered unoaked. There are also others that are aged in stainless steel tanks.

To achieve the “buttery” aroma and mouth-feel, Chardonnay wine makers will sometimes take additional steps after fermentation and do a “secondary fermentation” or malolactic fermentation (MLF). This process converts the tart, green-apple components (which some of us like!) of malic acid into smoother, buttery attributes of lactic acid. This conversion is done with the use of a particular species of bacteria (yum!). Before you get grossed out and swear off your favorite California Chardonnay, please note that MLF is more often used in the production of red wines, since high acidity is something less desirable in reds. So you see, this makes total sense – most times. There is also another process wine makers can do to achieve the creamy texture, but it is an arduous technique, it has a French name and it will just confuse things.

One evening I brought a bottle of Chablis over to a friend’s house. Located in the most northern area of Burgundy, they are known for producing some of the tastiest Chardonnays, which is the only grape that region produces. Not a fan of Chardonnay, I asked my friend if she liked what we were drinking. After she told me she liked it, I confessed we were drinking a Chardonnay. She of course did not believe me at first and was amazed to realize that she, in fact, does like Chardonnay after all.

So if you too have avoided Chardonnay, try to find one that suits you – I am sure it is out there. If you like full-bodied whites with tropical fruit notes, but do not like oakiness, then try one that is aged in stainless steel. Or try an Old World Chardonnay from France so you can taste the bright flavors of the Chardonnay coming through. It is about trying different wines, educating yourself and learning it is not all butter and toast. Tell us about your favorite Chardonnay.

Cin Cin!

 

 

National Pinot Noir Day!

Today is August 18, National Pinot Noir Day! During these hot summer months, Pinot Noir is a red wine I will often recommend. Check out my Pinot Noir post from a previous blog to read more about this versatile red.

How will you be celebrating National Pinot Noir Day? Let us know.

Cin Cin!

National Pinot Noir Day!
Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon

International Rose’ Day

Today is August 14, International Rose’ Day! We are in the homestretch of summer and soon rose’ “season” will be behind us. To celebrate this day, what will you be drinking? Let us know.

International Rose' Day!
Rose’ Wines From Around the World

Cin Cin!

 

Gruner Veltliner: My Latest Pour I

Gruner Veltliner
Gruner Veltliner

In an earlier post, I mentioned Gruner Veltliner, a white wine grape that grows most notably in Austria. Pronounced “grew-ner velt-LEE-ner”, it is a dry wine known for lime, lemon and grapefruit flavors.

I opened a bottle of Gruner this week, which proved to be a very tasty pour. It was light, fruity, well-balanced, with a nice crisp finish. Gruner is also known to have peppery notes, which I have yet to detect. Maybe you can – please let me know!

Additionally, Gruner Veltliner is a very food-friendly wine; it can be paired with just about anything. From soft cheeses and vegetarian fare, to a host of meat, seafood, spices and sauces; it also stands quite well on its own.

If you are a fan of Sauvignon Blanc and want to try something new and a little different, you must pour a Gruner Veltliner – you will not be disappointed. Let me know what you think!

Cin Cin!

 

Common Wine Misconceptions

As a wine professional, I have encountered several wine misconceptions while engaging with the general public. Regions are mistaken for grapes, wines are sometimes confused with other wines, and region names are often used as generic descriptions.

Here are just a few of the common misconceptions I have observed:

Region Versus Grape

When asked for a Rioja recommendation, I usually steer someone towards my favorite grape, Tempranillo – the most produced red in the Rioja region of Spain. When once making the recommendation, I was asked, “What is that?”, the person mistakenly thinking Rioja was actually the grape. France can also be very confusing for some. I have crossed paths with many who have told me that they love Sancerre wine, thinking it is a grape. If I try to recommend another Sauvignon Blanc, they turn up their nose and tell me they do not like it. They are always very surprised to learn that Sauvignon Blanc is the primary white grape of Sancerre, a region in the Loire Valley. Sadly, the biggest misconception to me seems to be Chianti, which is a region in Tuscany, Italy. When I start talking about Sangiovese, the most cultivated grape in Chianti, some people look at me like I have two heads.

Zinfandel Versus White Zinfandel

When recommending Zinfandel wine from California, I have come across a number of people who have looked at me in horror. Just from that look, I know immediately they are confusing it with White Zinfandel. Before I can even explain, some will blurt out, “No – I do not like sweet wines!” When I finally clarify, they are relieved to hear that Zinfandel is a robust, red grape grown widely in California and that White Zinfandel is basically the rose’ or “blush wine” produced from that grape. Sadly, it seems Zinfandel has gotten a bad reputation because of its use to make White Zinfandel, but things are changing, be it slow for some.

Champagne Versus Sparkling Wine

Nine times out of ten, when someone asks me for Champagne I know they are asking for a sparkling wine. No matter, I will show them the Champagne, note the look on their face when they see the price and then lead them towards a less expensive sparkling wine. To be called Champagne, there are rules that must be followed. It has to be made from all or any of the three different grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grown in the Champagne region and must be produced using the Champagne method. It is this method that makes the Champagne expensive because it is long and labor-intensive. For fine sparkling wines outside of Champagne this same arduous method is used, but it is called Traditional Method. Cheaper methods are used to make less expensive sparkling wines around the world.

For the most part, people are receptive to learning something new about wine. It is, however, hard to correct or educate everyone – sometimes you have to pick your battles. I find this true with this last misconception, since the word “Champagne” has become such a universal word to describe sparkling wine. Sometimes I don’t even correct people and only offer an explanation when asked. No doubt the French are just delighted that so many Americans refer to all sparkling wine as “Champagne”. And it must just tickle them, too, when we mix it with orange juice at brunch and pair it with our French toast! 

Cin Cin!